When Spanish explorers landed in what is now Georgia almost 500 years ago, gold was the aim of their quest. Instead, they discovered another treasure: the coast’s spectacular natural beauty, on full display at one of the state’s beloved barrier islands. Miles of wave-kissed beaches on St. Simons Island make it a prime destination for swimming, sunbathing, and beachcombing, while nearby maritime forests and sand dunes are ideal for spotting wildlife, from blue herons and bald eagles to sea turtles.
Climb the St. Simons Lighthouse, built in 1872, for sweeping views of the Atlantic, and explore the museum located in the former lighthouse keeper’s Victorian house.
Indulge in top-notch ’que at Southern Soul Barbeque, where the pork, brisket, and turkey are smoked for at least 12 hours. Treat yourself to a scratch-made donut (or a dozen of their unique flavors) at nearby Dulce Dough.
Accommodations range from the hip to the historic. The Park offers a boho-chic collection of five midcentury cottages, while the celebrated King and Prince draws guests with its golf course and oceanfront views.
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Tybee Island has been a popular vacation spot since the 1800s, and it’s easy to see why. Just 20 minutes from Savannah, it boasts five distinct beaches, miles of nature trails, relaxed restaurants, and the new Tybee Island Marine Science Center. Paddle a kayak over to Little Tybee Island, a pet-friendly, uninhabited island where campers are welcome to pitch a tent.
Cumberland Island, the largest and southernmost of Georgia’s barrier islands, is a nature lover’s paradise. Accessible via a 45-minute ferry, the undeveloped island is home to free-roaming wild horses and a host of other wildlife, including armadillos and loggerhead turtles. Explore the 18-mile-long beach and more than 50 miles of marked trails, then bed down at the historic Greyfield Inn.
Georgia’s capital city, Atlanta, offers a wealth of activities, from world-class arts and major-league sports to top-notch shopping and inventive dining. Even with all the big-city amenities, the state’s largest metropolis also manages to exude down-to-earth charm, thanks in large part to its many neighborhoods.
Follow the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail north to Virginia-Highland, known for its quaint boutiques and lively restaurant and pub scene. Take the West End Trail to discover some of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, including West End and Westview, where you’ll find the historic Morehouse and Spelman colleges. The area is also experiencing a surge in redevelopment (while you’re there, check out Lee + White’s breweries, restaurants, and retailers).
Discover a mix of old and new in Savannah, the state’s oldest city, founded in 1733, and see why it’s among the top travel destinations in the country. Wander the 30-acre historic Forsyth Park, and spot a range of architectural styles on a walking or trolley tour. Don’t miss the new Plant Riverside District, home to a number of hip restaurants, shops, and nightlife.
Thomasville represents the very best of Small Town U.S.A., with a historic downtown shopping and dining district that appears to have been taken from a Norman Rockwell canvas but also draws visitors (and critical acclaim) from around the nation. Stroll the vibrant streets and peruse the meticulously restored historic Victorian buildings, now home to boutiques selling wares made by local artisans.
Snap a photo with the Big Oak, downtown’s three-century-old tree, and pay a visit to the town’s Rose Garden, featuring 1,500 rose bushes, to see first-hand why Thomasville is known as the City of Roses. You might also engage in a quail hunt of sorts, searching downtown for 18 bronze statues of the game bird; it’s a nod to the pastime for which this part of the state has been known for more than a century.
You’ll certainly work up an appetite, and the town’s impressive culinary scene will more than deliver. Visit Liam’s for charcuterie boards and meat-centric mains or Jonah’s Fish & Grits for an array of expertly prepared seafood.
Stay the night in one of five uniquely appointed rooms at Thomasville Bed & Breakfast, a beautifully restored Queen Anne home within walking distance of downtown. Guests rave about the multi-course breakfast.
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Home to the University of Georgia, Athens blends sophistication with small-town appeal. See a show at Georgia Theatre or 40 Watt Club, spots synonymous with the music scene that gave R.E.M., Widespread Panic, and the B-52s their musical starts. Get a taste of the Classic City’s celebrated food scene at Butcher & Vine, known for its high-quality meats and small-batch wines.
High on coastal charm, Darien’s roots date to 1736, when it was founded by Scottish Highlanders protecting the colony’s frontier. Promenade along Waterfront Park, formerly the site of one of the busiest ports in the South, where you’ll see a range of boats while enjoying a picnic or casting a line. Sample the sea’s bounty at Skippers’ Fish Camp then settle in at Open Gates Bed & Breakfast, built in 1876 by a timber baron whose spirit is said to linger.
Escape to this lively little town in the state’s northeast corner and immerse yourself in the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Both the Southern Highroads Trail and US 441 Heritage Highway pass through this tight-knit community, making it easily accessible. Once in Clayton, you’ll discover why it has such wide appeal. Downtown is filled with curated boutiques, offering everything from home furnishings to on-trend fashions.
Creative local chefs, adept at capitalizing on the local agricultural bounty, have earned Clayton a reputation for its authentic dining scene. Taste for yourself at Fortify Kitchen & Bar and the Farmhouse at Waterfall Club.
Visitors looking to experience the majesty of nature won’t want to miss the adrenaline rush of whitewater rafting down the Chattooga River, water sports on Lake Burton, and hiking to see some of the area’s most spectacular scenic overlooks and waterfalls, such as Dicks Creek and Martin Creek falls. No matter which adventure you choose, the rolling mountains serve as a breathtaking backdrop.
Foodies of all ages will enjoy a meal at Clayton Pharmacy’s soda fountain, where griddled hamburgers, pimento cheese sandwiches, and hand-dipped milkshakes never go out of style.
Lovers of luxury will find much that appeals at Kingwood Resort & Winery, from spacious rooms to amenities, including golf, tennis, spa treatments, wine tastings — even hiking trails and a waterfall — all on the resort’s grounds.
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The mountain town of Dahlonega, site of America’s first major gold rush, is today the heart of Georgia wine country, and Wolf Mountain, Frogtown Cellars, and Three Sisters wineries are considered can’t-miss stops. Another must is the down-home Southern fare — fried chicken, collard greens, cornbread — served family-style at The Smith House.
As Georgia’s apple capital, Ellijay is a prime spot to pick your own fruit or score a range of sweet treats from apple donuts to apple butter at Panorama, R & A, or Hillcrest orchards. Adventurous souls will love tubing on the Cartecay River and hiking Springer Mountain and other trails in North Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.